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Once the storm made landfall, their neighborhood (although miles from the nearest levees) was flooded up to the second floor of most houses. Zeitoun began to explore the city in a secondhand canoe, distributing what supplies he had, ferrying neighbors to higher ground, checking on his tenants, and caring for abandoned dogs.
On September 14, Zeitoun and three companions were arrested at one of Zeitoun's rental houses by a mixed group of National Guardsmen, local police and police from out-of-state. Although the men were not immediately charged with any crimes, they were detained in a makeshift jail in a Greyhound bus station for three days time before being transferred to Elayn Hunt Correctional Center in nearby St. Gabriel, Louisiana. Zeitoun was held at Hunt for 20 more days without having stood trial. During that time he was refused medical attention and the use of a phone to alert his family of his predicament.